They Were Here

My back porch is one of the most reflective spots on Earth. And when it’s breezeless and just the right temperature–that certain degree that feels like no temperature at all, man, I could sit out here forever and ponder what it means to be human and what exists beyond our universe. And also, I can’t help but drift back to some of my very favorite thoughts. Like an old friend, I welcome in the daydream of who was here before.

Remember those T shirts everybody had in middle school? One said, “I am a girl. I am an athlete. Soccer is my sport.” Another read, “If you can’t run with the big dogs…STAY ON THE PORCH.” And then the one that is relevant to this piece (so I can stop showing off my memory of middle school apparel in the ’90s), a collection of animals straight outta the ark and the words, “They were here first.”


W. 38th Street. Where old meets new. (And new takes all of the parking spots even though new has a massive garage.)

No disrespect to the animals because we surely are damning them as a society right now but with my day dreamy brain, I keep thinking that phrase but applying it to the people who were here first (not the Native Americans, I will save that for another day).

In a century-old neighborhood like Hampden (I can hear the Europeans laughing at me from across the ocean), the history can go unnoticed or it can slap you in the face like the lingering shards in sailcloth factory window frames. You can operate your stainless steel appliances and maybe never think about what this house’s first stove looked like and what element it required to heat up. Maybe you can dig in your garden and think of this as your yard’s first rodeo because you haven’t taken a stab at beefsteak tomatoes before. Or you stare out across the alley and watch people living their lives like you’re looking at your own moving dollhouses.

But do you ever imagine the old-timey people living their lives in your living room? Lying their heads right where you put yours down each night? Do you see their big skirts and layers of drawers prancing around your house? Can you picture the man of the house coming home with a metal lunch pail gripped in grey dusty fingers? Is his wife filling an ashtray in the kitchen, counting her hours in Marlboro Lights? Do you see a chicken coop out back and fresh eggs in the ice box where your Frigidaire hums now? What did they store in the basement? What did they eat every Friday night? Before the dug in, did they pray first? Did they walk to the church at 38th and Roland on Sunday mornings? Were their kids born on the hardwoods of the upstairs bedroom like my Gram’s sister Dolly? Was their couch in the same spot that yours sits? Who is responsible for the stain on the floor near the dining room table? Did someone from the past love sitting out back watching others live their lives?

Partially, I think I love the dreaminess and the slight sorrow of nostalgia. I find my heart living in the space between amazement that they were here and sadness that they’re not anymore. And I didn’t even know them. But somehow, I make these people alive when I picture them moving in the spaces where I move. It’s like I am paying them homage when I bring them to life in my mind.

You were here. I honor you. I will care for this place.

Over the past year two of the backyards across our alley have been gigantic trash cans for the contents of the homes in front of them. It’s that old Hampden story on loop. Grandparents were ill or dead, they left the house to their grandkids, their grandkids were using drugs in the house, the foundation was crumbling, some flipper saw potential and bought it for maybe $80 thousand. He’ll get granite countertops and brushed nickel faucets and sell it for $315K in three months. When I go in our back bedroom now, I keep catching my eye on those yards thinking that it has snowed but only in two backyards and nowhere else. I snap back and realize the yards are paved for parking. And then I imagine the old-timey kids playing and dreaming in their backyards in the 1920s. Was it a mini baseball diamond like my yard often became? Did they dig in the dirt, practice their flips, wrestle to the death? Did their momma beg them not to trample some old-timey-sounding flower like begonias? Did they ever imagine that their factory workers’ hood would ever be so desirable that a parking pad would seem the only sensible choice?


A life, piled in a backyard.

Sometimes I do this at red lights. Just turn to the left and wonder about that storefront, or that one, or that one, or the house right there, or that old lot. Baltimore is ripe for the picking for those who wish to daydream about the past. We have all levels of decay. Utter and complete dilapidation, abandonment, newly forgotten, and then the newly discovered and gentrified.

Who was there? Did it matter to someone? Did a woman or man take pride in keeping that stoop dirt-free? What did that church sound like on Sundays at 11 a.m.? Who touched up that trim in the ’50s?



When I find myself in that space somewhere among the triangle of nostalgia and sorrow and rosy retrospection, I’m enjoying myself. I like that spot because the possibilities are limitless. Those people can be happy. They can be ignorant to the future destruction or paving or making trash out of things that once mattered to them. They’re preserved right there in that spot in my mind. Just as they are. With their old-timey clothes and their proud homes and their mini baseball diamond backyard. They don’t age. They’re just there, suspended in time and in peace. And maybe they deserve that because they were here first.


And now, a photo essay (not that I really know what constitutes a photo essay). I took the captions out of the caption view because I think they’re easier to read that way.


I doubt the architect who dreamed up that terracotta design pictured The Hustler in the next millennium.  (For context, I took this picture at the 2018 Women’s March on Baltimore.)


Roosevelt Community Center Stage. This is where the Hampden Community Council Meetings are held, just below this mural suspended in the air and suspended in time. Seriously, when was the last time they let kids use those deathtrap rings on chains in gym class? It takes two hands to count the ways someone could die on those.


The Hippodrome Theatre opened in 1914 to show vaudeville films with the sound provided by live musicians. It closed in 1990. Then in 2004 it reopened as a performing arts center. If you have been or you go there sometime in the future, just imagine people paying the premium price of 60 cents for the evening showing of Six of A Kind.


Govans Presbyterian Church is a block from the Senator Theatre but if I told you I took this photo on the grounds of a Belgian castle, would you believe me? It opened in the 1840s and is named for the Scottish family who settled the Govans neighborhood in North Baltimore. Imagine antebellum Presbyterians flooding in and out of these doors. Can you see the top hats and hoop skirts?


This is Bates Hall in the Central Branch of the Boston Public Library. Hardly a forgotten Baltimore rowhouse, it was built in 1895. Joshua Bates, a wealthy Bostonian, told BPL he would give them $5o thousand provided that “the building shall be such as to be an ornament to the City, that there shall be a room for one hundred to one hundred and fifty persons to sit at reading tables, and that it be perfectly free to all.” And here we still have it, over 120 years later.


This is a view of Druid Lake in Druid Hill Park in Baltimore (the lake is now being cleaned and renovated–however you renovate a lake–so this view may no longer exist since I took it a year ago). Ready to feel sad? According to the Baltimore Rec and Parks website, “The history of Druid Hill Park began over two centuries ago when the Susquehannock Indians ceded land in 1652- that included that park’s area and its holdings to Lord Baltimore. Because of its access to the Jones Falls stream and other springs it is believed to have been an ideal site for the Native Americans. Lord Baltimore subsequently began to parcel the land out.” How awful that the history of this place began when we forced out people who’d be there for…ever? Lloyd Nicholas Rogers sold the land he had inherited from his father to the City of Baltimore in 1860. The reservoir was added in 1863, hard to imagine building a reservoir with the Civil War going on and bullets flying all over the place (my vision).

The park was part of the American Parks Movement which sought to give urban dwellers a place to play. It was modeled after European Parks. In 1992 an R&B group calling themselves “Dru Hill” launched onto the music scene with #1 hits “In My Bed,” “Never Make a Promise,” and “How Deep Is Your Love.” Sisqo, of “The Thong Song” was a member of Dru Hill. Can you imagine the slave-holding Nicholas Rogers (Lloyd’s dad) hearing the music of the band launched from his land’s loins? Just makes me giddy inside!



This is the entirety of LMCJ back in January 2016, all crammed into Lillie May Carroll Jackson’s (the person) former kitchen (I’m guessing) on Eutaw Place. This home, which Lillie May bought through the owner of the Orioles at the time (Hoffberger) was in a neighborhood where African Americans just did not live. In it she hosted Civil Rights Leaders who visited Baltimore since blacks were not allowed to stay in hotel rooms in Baltimore in her heyday. The home is now the Lillie Carroll Jackson Civil Rights Museum. When we visited in 2016, it was still being completed. If LMCJ (the person) could only see what’s going on in the room where she hosted Jackie Robinson, MLK, and so many more.


This is my classroom as I inherited it in August 2015. Woodbourne Junior High School opened to all whites in 1953. It has a bomb shelter in the basement and down there you can see where the building’s footprint was stamped right on an existing sidewalk, an existing world. The school was so crowded for a time that despite its massiveness, there were morning kids and afternoon kids since there wasn’t enough space to teach them all at once. Woodbourne Junior High gave way to Chinquapin Middle School which then became Baltimore Information Technology Academy and then Lillie May Carroll Jackson and we now share with Baltimore Collegiate. When I taught in this room, I often imagined 40 little white kids crammed into desks with shiny shoes and ties and dresses, because that’s what they chose to wear. The story of Madalyn Murray O’Hair is just absolutely bananas throughout every decade. Its inception? Woodbourne Junior High School and the fight for an atheists to not have to pray with their teachers. Maybe O’Hair’s son took Algebra in my classroom. Maybe he was here first.


Other links if you share my daydreams. These photos are each worth at least a million words.

In Maryland? You can look up the history of your house by making an account here: Thanks, Dan!


Two Months is Not Enough

Dear Young Lady,

As you stand before me, asking me to charge your phone, though you’re an hour late for school and not in full uniform, all I can think of is that we only have two months. So that’s why I Dora-the-Explorer-blinked-and-stared at you before answering. Two months.

I’ll admit that I am menstrual and emotional and generally just a little bit too turnt up this week. So here’s me, Mrs. Eby, in all in my feelings–nothing you haven’t seen so many times before in the past three years.

We only have two months of saying good morning and “How was your night? How’d you sleep?” and “Please stay awake in block 1,” and “Don’t spill your cereal on the keyboard…again.” You have two more months of my looping lectures. You can switch back and forth between sighing and looking away, listening with tears in your eyes, or walking away from me. Just two months of you accidentally calling me mom (and I actually count those, it’s been five times just this week). We have two more months of you leaving your things all over my office. Two more months of your cousin calling me past my bedtime to find out if I know where you are. Two more months of you leaving half-done projects everywhere you’ve sat. And two more months of tiny disagreements followed by tiny apologies. Just two months of you needing a pencil, of needing a sheet of paper, of needing a hug, two more months of you needing me. But I actually know that’s not true.

Three years ago you walked up to the door of my classroom, grabbed me around the middle and said, “Hi teacher!” Like you just thought I looked friendly, or maybe you just hugged everyone, or maybe that was just you. And as I got to know that huge heart inside of your chest, I see that is who you are. That’s my very favorite thing about you.

But it scares me too. So when I gave you an earful this morning about staying out late, about lying to your cousin about where you are, about boys, and that friend I really don’t trust, when I went on about your future and your choices and your amazing brain, I did that because I am scared. I’m scared you’ll give your giant heart to someone who doesn’t deserve it. I’m afraid that you’ll grab a new person around the middle and that person won’t be a me.

I want you to be whole in all of the ways a person can be whole. Whole heart, whole mind, whole spirt, whole piece of toast. I just don’t trust the rest of the world to let you stay that way.

It’s not because you’re not strong or tough or hearty. In 13 years, you’ve been through much more than I have in 30. But I want your next 17, your next 117 to be simpler, with less hard choices, and less hurt, but more independence. I want you to be free to make choices between two good things like this car or that car, this college or that college, this job or that job. No more deciding between a rock and hard place. No more dilemmas. If you can get through these next five without pain, pregnancy, or pleas, you’ll make it to those choices, to that dilemma-less-ness, to that freedom.

But how oh how do I help you see that? How can I show you the crystal ball that I have in my head? Or the well wishes I send from my fingertips? How can I show you the amount I care about you?  I can’t teach you the wisdom of years, can’t make you know that youth is wasted on the young, can’t possibly prove how right I am about this, and everything else I’ve ever said to you. You just have to find out for yourself.

That’s what scares me the most.

But for two more months, I’ll keep talking to you every day. I’ll repeat the same diatribes like they’re brand new, like they just occurred to me, like my words drip drop with novelty and recent realizations. As I fill your ears while pouring out my heart, I’ll hope that I’m filling your brain. I will be here ready for you to call me mom. I will be right here ready for your tears, hugs, your kind and sometimes unkind words.

So, yes I will charge your phone. And please change your shoes and take off that hoodie. Hand me your late pass.

Let’s make this a good day. Because that’s where this starts, over and over and over and again.


Ms. Doran/Mrs. Eby/Mom

The Butterfly Effect


I have no justification for this photo being the cover for this post. But I like this picture and I wanted to include some image.

On Wednesday I was in a Lyft on the way to the Orioles game and of course I struck up an invasive conversation in which I turned into an inquisitor the strength of which the world has never seen–well, since the last time I took a Lyft. My driver (to whom I actually gave the address for this blog–What up, Kevin?!) was forced to reveal deeply personal details about his life because of my persistent inquiry. But he was a good sport. He said that he was in the military so I asked what he thought about the military. He told me that he has extremely mixed feelings but that it helped him out when he needed it. When he was a senior in high school he was shopping around for D1 track and field programs for college. He said he had used up all of his visits (I didn’t know what this meant but I am guessing there’s a certain amount for recruited athletes…?) but the night before the decision deadline a D1 school in Alabama reached out and offered him a full scholarship. He and his family deliberated all night and in the morning, decided to take the offer. He shipped off to school that fall and began training with the team. Then,  during that very first season on a trail run during practice he fell off of the trail and down a hill, fracturing his back. Yes, that’s apparently a thing. He left school, stopped running, went back home to Texas and when he found himself doing nothing and hating it,  he joined the Navy. So instead of running competitively for four years or maybe more, he ended up with the Navy, working in suburban Maryland, and mildly disliking Baltimore while driving Lyft all around it. (If you know me at all, this is why I gave him my blog address.) And that’s when I started thinking about The Butterfly Effect.

Now, I wasn’t really thinking about the 2004 Ashton Kutcher movie but I wasn’t not thinking about it. Because, quick diversion, when I was dating my late high school/early college boyfriend who ended up addicted to drugs and then dying at 27, the first time I caught him in a lie–and he was pathological–I had rented The Butterfly Effect and he said he’d take it back on time. But, he didn’t. And when I saw that movie still sitting on top of his DVD player a few days later, I should’ve known. But that was not my own Butterfly Effect. I did have an important one, just a few years later with a different guy.

The Butterfly Effect as a scientific concept came about from the brain of an MIT meteorology professor named Edward Lorenz. The more scientific version is the “sensitive dependence on initial conditions.” Lorenz’s discovery was that some tiny factor could lead to so many other consequences that the flap of a butterfly’s wings in one hemisphere could cause a tornado in the other. According to this article, “Like the results of a wing’s flutter, the influence of Lorenz’s work was nearly imperceptible at first but would resonate widely. In 1963, Lorenz condensed his findings into a paper, “Deterministic Nonperiodic Flow,” which was cited exactly three times by researchers outside meteorology in the next decade. Yet his insight turned into the founding principle of chaos theory, which expanded rapidly during the 1970s and 1980s into fields as diverse as meteorology, geology, and biology. ‘It became a wonderful instance of a seemingly esoteric piece of mathematics that had experimentally verifiable applications in the real world,’ says Daniel Rothman, a professor of geophysics at MIT.”

So here are some verifiable applications in the real world, albeit I am certainly stretching the term “Butterly Effect.” Who knows? This could be the first time this article is cited in a Baltimorean’s blog.

So, my Lyft driver Kevin’s B.E. was his fall from the cliff. Mine came when an idiot threw a beer can at no one at Preakness 2008. That can struck Charles Arthur Eby IV in the head. The strike led Chas to the medical tent where he was told to leave immediately to get stitches. He stayed anyway but slowed down on his typical Preakness-Day-level-drinking. He then approached me, more sober than before and more able to speak with a human female, and here we are 10 Preaknesses later. A butterfly flapped its wings.

Cindy Eby, my mother in law, is like a Butterfly Effect creator. Several years ago she cut out this article from the Baltimore Sun and gave it to me. It describes a school-in-planning. It would be an all girls charter in Baltimore City with project-based learning, a focus on active citizenship. I loved everything I read. So I stalked the process. I believe I was their first applicant. Wimbamboom. Here we are today! Because a butterfly flapped its wings.

About five years before that, Cindy cut out a tiny job posting from the paper and gave it to Chas when he left for a month of finding himself in Costa Rica, jobless but optimistic. He returned, applied using that tiny one inch by one inch posting, and then Chas spent half a decade working that job for the state of Maryland’s Office of Preparedness and Response. After a butterfly flapped its wings.

Then there was the time we did a walk-through in a completely incomplete house. You couldn’t even see the floors there was so much junk everywhere. The flipper was passionate and hyper and he was a man named Loren. We walked out of the weirdest home viewing we’d ever been to–having not seen any other houses that weren’t actually complete–and Cindy said, “I have a feeling about this one.” Here we are in rounding out our fifth year at 807. I really cannot imagine living anywhere else. And a butterfly had flapped its wings.

When Chas spoke at the Stoop Stories back in December, I invited every single person we know, dead or alive. Shar came! (She’s alive.) Which was exciting for several reasons. She told me on the sly that she had a story that would fit the theme of the night: Unconventional Holidays. I took a stance of noncommittal concealed pressure for her to share her story at the free speaking time during the intermission. Eventually, Shar fell for my mind tricks (when I grabbed her hand and shoved it in the air) and she decided to share. From there, my boss Laurel heard Shar speak, asked if I thought she might want to work at Lillie May to which I responded, “I doubt it.” I asked Shar anyway to honor Laurel’s completely ridiculous idea. Here we are many months later and who works with me? Shar. A butterfly was flapping somewhere.

These types of things happen to me so often that I barely have the time to attach them to the Butterfly Effect but that’s what they are in my mind. I’ll check my email with 10 minutes left before a deadline. I ended up in a yoga class where I meet the person who eventually talked me into yoga teacher training…twice. I had lunch with Aunt Robin to discuss working at nonprofits in Baltimore and she said, “You know, I don’t think you’re finished with the mission of your school” and here I am at Lillie May for Year 3, seriously happier than I’ve ever been professionally. Flappity flap flap flap.

I feel two completely polarized ways about this. First, I feel grateful and continue to come back to the concept that everything happens for a reason. Second, I feel scared that I was so close to missing out. It makes me feel tiny and insignificant and out of control. Yet at the same time, I feel powerful and aware and all-knowing.

I think the Butterfly Effect is great motivation for being a teacher who sweats the small stuff and celebrates tiny victories or one who takes kids out to a museum and schedules meaningful trips. It’s a driving force behind complimenting others and holding the door and letting someone into your lane and saying hello to the person you haven’t seen in a long time. Because you just never know whether that tiny action will make all the difference.

I would guess we all fall somewhere in the middle, but certainly in the crosshairs of the Butterfly Effect.

Humans of Hampden

No, this idea is not original. But I made it my own. I got this idea from here and from a book by the same name that I received as a birthday gift from Christie and Sean. My final thought before falling asleep a few nights ago was, “I need to make a Humans of Hampden.”

And here it is.

I have taken all but one of these photos and I have only written one of these captions myself. While this was the easiest blog to “write,” it was the most time-consuming to create. I still cannot believe how much fun I had talking to all of these awesome people who agreed to be a part of this. If your photo is below, thank you for your participation, for trusting me, and for letting me steal your soul (kidding–or am I?).

Thank you to my darling Sierra who is an actual photographer and let me borrow her camera so I could pretend to be one for a few days.

Shout out to my four rotating co-pilots in the past few days: Morgan, Sarah, Becky, and Gabby.

This post has made me wish I had more reasons to talk to strangers, especially in my favorite neighborhood. For more on Hampden, see this post.

Lastly before the big show, if I had taken my own photo my caption would be “Whatever you are, be a good one.”

Please feel free to enjoy, share, or guffaw at…

Humans of Hampden

“Work together. Live together. Nap together.”
“I was never the type of girl who ran up to other people’s dogs to pet them or got all excited over puppies…and actually when I think about it, I avoided dogs for the most part—especially any that would jump or sniff my lady parts without my consent…but the minute we walked Maggie home from the SPCA, something changed and I was officially a dog person!  I have become the girl who wants and needs all dogs, talks in a dog voice, spends money on special grain free pet food, will defend Maggie and speak her praises whenever I can, and is okay with dog hair on her clothes and it just took was one pit bull formerly know as Sherri to change it all.” 
– Morgan


“Board down there chillin’.”
– Derek King


“I want to bring boat-building back to Baltimore. This is a nautical town.  So I’m starting in my basement.  I’ve already built a bunch – stand up paddle boards, kayaks, and a 17 foot dory…and they’re only going to get bigger!”
“I’m thinking about whether I need to get back to work in human rights, anti-slavery, here in Baltimore. I mean, what am I doing painting pictures? Is it enough?” 
Left: “I encourage anyone interested in improving our city to take a look at the Facebook page for Close Up Baltimore which shows a more authentic view than what the media shows.”
Right: “Fuck the police.”

“Future soldier.”
– Romario Morris
“‘What are they filming over there?’ I asked a bank security guard while strolling through Hampden on a lunch break. House of Cards, the man answered, eyeing me. ‘Ain’t you in it?’ I had to laugh, reminded that modern work attire surely resembles a prison jumpsuit and that too often books are judged by their covers. I can’t get enough of this neighborhood, its unique angles and people and rooflines, odd shops and sweets. Sometimes I’ll walk for an hour straight, turning down the narrowest alleys I can find, taking in off-kilter porches and turquoise tin and gnome parties on makeshift lawns, feeling the squish of soft mud beneath dress shoes in the park as I lend a free, unmeant scare to those doing god-knows-what in the woods. Sitting by the skate park, perusing the bookstore for a deal too good to pass up, climbing the enticing steps of Luigi’s–best sub shop in the city–I find solace, knowing I’m not the only one who’s talking to themselves, dreaming up a moment that seems in view but just out of reach, grasping, kicking up a cloud of dust, thinking I’ll see something that will spark something morphing into something else becoming tangible like our surroundings, our neighborhood—smells, sound, tastes. Sometimes they’re filming hit TV shows. More often they’re not. But it’s all out there, for us, if we choose to immerse ourselves, in it.”
“It is what it is.” 
“Everyone keeps telling me to put on a jacket but it’s April and I refuse.”
“And for the record, I am cold.” 
“Hanging out on the porch of the pie shop.”
– Rodney


“It’s too windy to drop in today.”
– Josh
“[In Hampden] you can be whoever you want to be, just be you!” 
“Been home from work for five minutes. I’m gettin’ cozy.”
“Himalayan guy in a blue cap.”
“Meandering with Molly.”
“Are my eyes closed?”
“Van Man wants to take you for a ride!” 
-my dad 
“I get off at 6. Then I’m gonna go home, drink cider, and watch professional wrestling.”
– Meredith at The Charmery
“I’m too young to have wise words, but I enjoy eating and a smile never hurts.”
“When you’re hot, you’re hot.”
– Shelly Shellhorn of Crafted Salon
“All you can do is BE YOU.”
– Crystal Whitman of
“I am an artist, a painter and printmaker. I’ve been working at Royal Farms for about four years now, I manage digital marketing for the company (excluding social) and I also run the test kitchen, amongst other things. The day this picture was taken we were testing new breakfast options (sorry, I’m sworn to secrecy). I have three sons, all under the age of 12 – I’m a single parent. Also, I perform in community theatre, the last show I was in was Determination of Azimuth, a Baltimore Rock Opera production started at Arena Players. I’m less busy now that show is over.” 




“Ever since the day I met Rob, he’s been a really good friend. And I thank God he blessed us both to meet each other. Since day one, we’ve been very good friends and we’ve always had a helping hand for one another.”
– Chuck and Rob
“Checkin’ the phone.”
“People are dying to get in there.”
“Country dog vs. city squirrel.” 
“I like taking pictures with people. I like to draw too.”
The number 95.
“Dog matches boots.”
“Dwight Schrute would be welcome in Hampden.”
“Celebrating the Hubble Telescope’s 28th Birthday!”
“Never leaving Baltimore.”
“No, this is not a Ravens jacket.”
“Visit Strawberry Fields for bargains and treasures. We give teacher and student discounts all year long.”
“Come to the library for free books, music, and movies.”



“Send help.”